What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free website analytics platform that offers a wealth of insights that improve the understanding of your website audience, their acquisition, behavior, and profitability.
Getting to know Google Analytics will pay for itself many times over, as you make data-informed changes about your online store, visitor behavior on your website, and where your traffic is coming from—information that can be harnessed to find new customers and prevent lost sales. What’s more, with the recent shift to Google Analytics 4, the free analytics tool is now simpler to use and more accurate.
Still, for the average store owner, Google Analytics has a pretty steep learning curve. So to help you get started, we’ve pulled together a comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know to set up Google Analytics for your online store, the basic reports you should be checking regularly as an ecommerce entrepreneur, and a few other goodies to help you get the most out of the latest version of Google Analytics for ecommerce.
Why you need Google Analytics to grow your ecommerce store
If you ran a retail store, you’d be able to see firsthand how many customers are walking around your store and what products they’re browsing, adding to their basket, or putting back on the shelves.
Setting up ecommerce analytics and tracking the relevant KPIs not only unlocks that information and more, it also helps you answer more granular questions about visitor behavior, like:
- What are the most-visited products and pages on your website?
- On average, how much time are people spending on a particular page?
- Which pages on your website drive the most revenue for your business?
- How valuable is traffic from search engines vs. social media ads?
- Which marketing campaigns or channels are bringing in low-quality traffic that leaves without taking further action?
- How many of your visitors are new vs. returning?
- What percentage of visitors add a product to their cart and what percentage of those people actually complete checkout?
- What are the most popular devices your website is viewed on?
The answers to these questions and more can be found in Google Analytics and actioned in your marketing strategy, website design, product development, pricing strategy, copywriting, and business decisions, both big and small.
Imagine you’ve been driving traffic to your product page for a month but have yet to make a single sale. You want to know why so you can make the right changes.
Without Google Analytics, you don’t know where to start. Is the problem that your product page isn’t enticing people to click Add to Cart? Or are surprise shipping costs at checkout scaring people off?
With Google Analytics, you’re able to see most of your traffic is coming from Facebook Ads and has a low engagement rate. You can now narrow your diagnosis—maybe you’re driving the wrong traffic or need to warm people up more with your ad creative or product description?
Google Analytics empowers informed decision-making about your business. Otherwise, you’re just guessing in the dark.
“As an ecommerce business, I use Google Analytics to break down the sales funnels we’ve been building for Bull & Cleaver. It’s helped us diagnose ‘leaks’ in the experience and fix them.”
How to set up Google Analytics for your ecommerce site
Google Analytics takes only a few clicks to set up, but the exact steps depend on your website platform. If you’re using Shopify, getting started is as simple as creating a new account in Google Analytics, copying the tracking code, and pasting it into the Google Analytics field in your settings page.
1. Sign up for Google Analytics
To get started with Google Analytics, you’ll first need a free Google account. If you already have a Gmail account, you’ll be able to use that. If not, create your Google account, then visit Google Analytics and click the button in the top right corner to get started.
2. Set up an account and your first property
If you’re starting from scratch, once you’ve signed in to Google Analytics you’ll be prompted to create an account. This will set up a new profile to track your ecommerce site analytics. Most people use their name or their business name.
You can track multiple “properties” under the same account. Say you want to track your online store, mobile app, and blog—you can do so by creating additional properties under the same account for each platform. And if you need to get back to them later, you can always access your accounts and properties any time in the Admin section of Google Analytics by clicking the gear icon in the bottom left.
On the next screen, you’ll start setting up the data stream for your first property. Since you’re setting up Google Analytics for your ecommerce website, choose Web and fill in the required details. You’ll want to turn on Enhanced measurement so you can get more granular tracking across your website, from how far down visitors scroll to what they type into the search bar on your website.
3. Install your Google Analytics tag on your website
Once you’ve created the data stream for your property, you’ll have to add a “tag” to your website so Google Analytics can track your visitors. There are a few ways to do this, but the most common is to copy the Global site tag code from Google Analytics into the <head> section of your website.
Don’t let the code throw you off. It’s a simple copy-and-paste job!
A shortcut for Shopify merchants: Shopify makes it easy to install popular tracking codes for your online store. Just go to Online store > Preferences and paste your tracking code in the Google Analytics field. Note that it can take up to 24 hours for Google Analytics to begin collecting information.
With the tracking code copied, you’ll need to find the <head> of your website. The <head> is where code containing important information about a webpage is stored that tells other websites, analytics tools, and search engines how to display the page and interact with it. Most website builders and ecommerce platforms have plug-and-play options for adding tracking code and other tags, but you may need to dive into your website’s code editor if you can’t find an option to inject the tracking code in your website builder’s settings.
If you’re using Shopify, you can head over to Online Store and Themes, and then under the Actions drop down, click on Edit Code.
Navigate to the theme.liquid file and look for the <head> tag, which marks the start of the <head> section. Paste your tracking code immediately after this and don’t forget to hit Save.
For step-by-step instructions for setting up Google Analytics on the Shopify platform, you can refer to this Shopify documentation. If you’re on a platform other than Shopify, please refer to Google Analytics documentation.
Setting up Google Analytics for Enhanced Ecommerce
Google Analytics also offers ecommerce-specific tracking to get access to more relevant insights for your business.
With Basic ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics you get transaction and revenue data (e.g., revenue generated by your online store), while Enhanced ecommerce tracking offers additional information about visitor behavior for specific products at different stages of the purchasing process (e.g., the ratio of product views to purchases). Since you’re running an ecommerce business, that extra granularity is well worth it.
You can enable Enhanced ecommerce in Shopify under Online Store > Preferences to make sure all relevant behavioral data on your Shopify store shows up in your Google Analytics reports.
I find Google Analytics is great for modeling visitor behaviors, whereas Shopify Reports is what I use for analyzing our sell-through rates and merchandising mix of our products. Together, the two help us optimize our website and our product mix on it.
5 essential Google Analytics reports for ecommerce
Google Analytics has a lot of reports, which can be customized a hundred different ways. But if you’re just starting out, you can still get a lot of valuable insights out of the built-in reports that come ready to go in Google Analytics.
Report categories in Google Analytics are broken down in the menu on the left:
- Real-time shows you what’s happening on your site right now, including how many active visitors are on it, where they’re from, and what pages they’re on.
- Acquisition reports give you a historical view of the marketing channels, campaigns, and locations you’re “acquiring” your traffic, conversions, and revenue from.
- Engagement reports show how visitors are interacting with your website, your most popular pages, and what events they’re triggering (e.g., scrolling to the bottom or clicking Add to Cart”).
- Monetization reports tell you how your website properties are making money, from number of purchasers to revenue generated.
- Retention tells you how many returning visitors your website is getting and offers insights related to their engagement and purchasing behavior.
- Demographics breaks behavioral data down by country, city, language, age, and gender of your visitors.
- Tech displays information about the devices, browsers, and screen sizes users are browsing your website with.
- Attribution reports plot your website visitors’ interactions with your marketing efforts on the path to purchase, giving you insight into your most valuable touchpoints.
Below, we’ll highlight some of the essential reports for ecommerce you should prioritize in Google Analytics.
Keep in mind for all reports (with the exception of Real-time reports), the default time period is the past 30 days. You can change the reporting period at any point by using the date selector in the top right corner.
The Real-time report is where you can monitor website traffic in real time. It’ll show you who is on your site at that very moment, which channels they came from, geographic “hot spots” for traffic visualized on a world map, and what pages they’re actively browsing.
Just click Real-time in the navigation menu on the left to bring up this dashboard, with the option to drill down deeper by selecting one of the other reports under Real-time, including Locations, Traffic Sources, Page, Events, and Conversions.
With Google Analytics 4, there’s also a View user snapshot feature, which gives you an anonymized view of a random user’s activity timeline and profile for a more zoomed in look at user behavior at an individual level.
What can you do with this information?
- Get a live view of traffic on your site during a big sale (e.g., Black Friday Cyber Monday).
- Monitor the immediate effects from an email campaign, influencer post, or other anticipated spike in traffic.
Acquisition reports provide insight about where yourecommerce store’s visitors, conversions, and revenue are coming from over time, providing invaluable marketing analytics across all your channels and helping you uncover how to drive more visitors (and customers) to your store over time.
By default, there are three acquisition reports. Acquisition overview offers a high level summary of traffic generating activities and results, while the User acquisition report breaks down new first-time users by channel within a given timeframe, and the Traffic acquisition report does the same for all traffic from both new and returning users.
These reports will show you several key metrics for each source of traffic:
- Users are the number of individual active users who have visited your site.
- Sessions are the number of instances where a user has started browsing your website, which can include viewing multiple pages. By default, a session times out after 30 minutes of inactivity.
- Engaged sessions are the number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, or had a conversion event, or had two or more screen or page views.
- Average engagement time per session reflects the average session duration that users were actively engaged.
- Engaged sessions per user is the number of engaged sessions that were triggered by a user on average.
- Events per session shows you how many events (e.g., viewing a page, clicking a button) were triggered per session on average.
- Engagement rate reflects the percentage of sessions that turned into engaged sessions.
- Event count shows the total number of events triggered by users on your site.
- Conversions shows the total number of times users triggered conversion-specific events.
- Total revenue is the sum of all your monetization streams tracked in Google Analytics.
Within these reports, you can also drill down on specific channels like Referrals, layering on a dimension like Session source so you can see the domain names of websites that are linking to your store and driving referral traffic.
What can you do with this information?
- Know which channels are driving traffic and sales so you can focus on the channels that are most effective for you.
- Understand what other websites are linking to you and the volume of traffic they're driving so you can easily see where other opportunities may exist.
- Dig into how different channels are driving engaged traffic, conversions, and revenue for your business.
The Engagement reports section is designed to help you improve the content on your site and analyze how visitors are reacting to it. This includes information on how well your pages keep visitors around, which is a signal valued by search engines that influence your SEO.
Within this category, you have an Engagement overview that displays high level engagement metrics about your site, like how long a user is spending on average on your site, what your most visited pages are, and your “stickiness” among regular visitors to your site.
Like in the Acquisition reports table above, you can search, filter, sort, and add layers for deeper analysis to see which user segments are triggering certain events or which traffic on a specific set of pages is the most engaged.
The following are some key engagement metrics to keep an eye on to gauge the “stickiness” of your website and individual pages:
- Views are the number of times a page has been loaded and viewed on a screen (this includes the same user refreshing the page).
- Average engagement time shows the duration a user spends on average on your website or individual pages. If it’s particularly low on a page where you’d want it to be high (e.g., your About page), it might be an indication that you’re either driving irrelevant traffic or visitors were confused by the content and left.
- Unique scrolls are the number of unique users who made it at least 90% to the bottom of the page.
- Even count is the number of events users triggered on the page.
What can you do with this information?
- Create a better user experience for your visitors, such as investing more in hooking their attention toward the top of your page, or making the content shorter or easier to navigate if users aren’t scrolling through.
- Analyze the engagement on specific pages down to the specific traffic sources on that page.
- See how engaged your user base is over time, based on their daily, weekly, or monthly activity.
Ecommerce purchases report
The Ecommerce purchases report under the Monetization section might be the most useful report of all. Platforms like Shopify pass information about your products, sales. and conversions to Google Analytics for further analysis.
This report lets you learn more about what visitors buy on your site, including information about:
- Which products they buy and in what quantity, and the revenue generated by those products
- Their transactions, including revenue, shipping tier, and quantity for each purchase
- The time to purchase, or the number of days or sessions it takes to purchase, starting from the most recent campaign through to the completed transaction
The Overview report gives you a breakdown of total revenue and purchasers (including first-time purchasers), as well as purchases by product or coupon. But it’s when you dig into the Ecommerce purchases reports that you’ll uncover specific metrics for each item in your store:
- Item views is the number of times a product was viewed.
- Add-to-baskets are the number of times that product was added to a shopping cart.
- Basket-to-view rate is the percentage of total product views that ended with the product added to a cart.
- Purchase-to-view rate is the percentage of views that ended with the product being purchased.
What can you do with this information?
- Identify which products sell well and are best suited for your customer base.
- Diagnose potential friction or uncertainty that may be keeping specific products in a cart from being purchased.
- Measure the revenue per transaction and the number of products per transaction and decide whether to offer better quantity discounts, or eliminate shipping costs if customers meet a minimum dollar amount.
The Attribution reports under the Advertising section may not be immediately valuable if you’re just starting out, but it’s important for understanding the bigger picture of the customer’s journey to purchase.
Marketing attribution becomes more important as your marketing budget grows and you add more channels to your mix. It helps you understand what your marketing dollars are doing and how your various investments work together to generate a return through traffic and sales.
Marketing attribution models let you place more or less weight at different touchpoints in that journey depending on the “worldview” you want to see it through (for example, last click attribution gives more credit to the last click before converting).
The Model comparison report makes it easy to easily compare the value of your marketing tactics through the lens of different attribution models, while the Conversion paths report gives you a look at the timeline of the path to conversion—when certain marketing touchpoints took place and how long after it took for visitors to convert.
What can you do with this information?
- Analyze and compare the dollar value of various marketing channels and tactics.
- Get an overview of how users are interacting with your marketing on the path to purchase.
- Compare your marketing investments against the attributable revenue generated from each investment under different attribution models.
Compare different groups of visitors with Google Analytics segments
By default, Google Analytics will show you reports based on all traffic to your store, along with the general insights most of its users will find useful.
However, you can customize your reports to show information that’s relevant to your context and drill down to analyze more specific segments within your total traffic.
Click the Edit comparisons icon to bring up the option to select dimensions for the traffic you want to include or exclude from your reports. For example, if you wanted to only see new users who found you through an organic Google search.
Or if you wanted to compare the two segments of visitors who made a purchase and visitors who haven’t made a purchase to understand the patterns that improve the likelihood of making a purchase, such as consuming articles on your blog.
Steer your growth in the right direction with Google Analytics
Understanding the fundamental metrics around your site and your visitors is absolutely crucial to growing and scaling your business.
You don’t need to be a data analytics wizard to get value from Google Analytics and unearth the kinds of golden insights that can save you many lost sales down the line.
You just need to log in with the right questions, armed with the knowledge of where to look to find answers.